Evander Holyfield set out to prove something by winning the WBA heavyweight title against John Ruiz. Unfortunately, he wound up proving the wrong thing.
Yes, Holyfield won a title for an unprecedented fourth time, just as he had planned. But what Saturday night's narrow but unanimous decision really showed was that Holyfield might rethink his career plans as he nears his 38th birthday.
The fighter who staged thrilling wars with Riddick Bowe and pulled one of boxing's biggest upsets against Mike Tyson looked just like what he has become against Ruiz - an aging fighter whose reflexes are increasingly suspect.
"Everything is hard for me," Holyfield said. "I'm accustomed to it. If it's not hard, it's probably not worth it."
Holyfield became a heavyweight champion once again by using the ring generalship acquired in 19 previous title fights to take the 12th round and win by one point on two ringside scorecards, and four on a third.
That might have been impressive against a fighter like Tyson or Bowe in his prime. But Ruiz was basically a journeyman who fought hard but had never been in a title fight and had never fought anyone of prominence, outside of a 19-second loss to David Tua.
"I'm just a little bit better than my opponent, I don't claim to be a lot," Holyfield said. "If I get an opportunity to fight him again, I'll be better."
A Holyfield-Ruiz rematch could be possible, if only because the fight was fairly entertaining despite long moments of clinching and holding in most rounds.
Ruiz gave it everything he had but seemed to run out of gas in the crucial 12th round. A left hook by Holyfield appeared to knock him down, although referee Richard Steele ruled it a slip.
"I fought my heart out," Ruiz said. "Let's set another date and let's make it for real."
Holyfield's goal is to win the undisputed title once again and retire, and he said the week of the fight that if it took him until 2003 or 2004 to do so, he would still be fighting.
It might take that long, since Lennox Lewis holds the other two belts and has already fought Holyfield twice in the last 17 months. Holyfield got a controversial draw the first time, then lost a decision.
Lewis, though, doesn't really need Holyfield anymore, and since neither Holyfield-Lewis fight was a classic, it's doubtful a third fight would be any more attractive.
Still, "Who else is he going to fight to make money?" Holyfield asked.
Money, of course, should be the least of Holyfield's concerns. Since beating Tyson, he has earned $100 million in the ring, including $5 million for the Ruiz fight.
Holyfield hasn't looked sharp in the ring since beating Tyson, and his last four fights have all gone the distance without him knocking any of his opponents down. He nearly dropped Ruiz in the third round, but backed off and had trouble beating him to the punch the resof the night.
"I'll fight anybody," Holyfield said. "I'll fight Lennox or Mike Tyson if those fights can be made. I will fight until I win it."
©2000 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed